It can be easy for horseplayers to underestimate the $700,000 Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park as a pivotal prep race for the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. After all, the 1 1/8-mile race takes place over Turfway’s synthetic Tapeta racing surface, whereas the Kentucky Derby is contested on dirt. But you know what? The Jeff Ruby can be a source of live longshots in the Kentucky Derby. In 2011, Animal Kingdom won the Jeff Ruby (then known as the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes) before springing a 20-1 Kentucky Derby upset. Last year, Rich Strike parlayed a third-place finish in the 2022 Jeff Ruby finish into an 80-1 surprise in the Kentucky Derby.
It’s possible the Jeff Ruby is on the ascent as a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep event. The race awards qualifying points on a 100-40-30-20-10 basis to its top five finishers, representing a dramatic increase from the 20-8-4-2 points up for grabs by the top four finishers as recently as 2020. The Tapeta surface is relatively new, replacing a synthetic Polytrack course over which the Jeff Ruby was contested from 2006 through 2020.
Polytrack had a reputation for favoring turf horses, so dirt runners—including top Kentucky Derby contenders—tended to steer clear of the Jeff Ruby. If Rich Strike is any indication, the switch to Tapeta may be changing the complexion of the race. We’ve already seen something of a shift, as the first two Tapeta editions of the Jeff Ruby were won by horses who prepped in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes racing 1 1/16 miles at Turfway Park.
All this is a long-winded way of saying two things: #1 Major Dude (5-2), the morning line favorite to win the 2023 renewal of the Jeff Ruby, isn’t invincible against John Battaglia alumni #8 Congruent (5-1) and #2 Scoobie Quando (15-1). And it’s possible a serious Kentucky Derby contender or two will emerge from the Jeff Ruby field.
Back in the Polytrack days, Major Dude would have been an easy choice to win the Jeff Ruby. His exploits on turf are impressive. He won the Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes against a large field last fall and recently rallied to beat a good field in the Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Major Dude has never run over a synthetic track of any kind, so the surface switch may place him at a disadvantage against proven Tapeta specialists.
Chief among those specialists is Congruent. During the winter at Gulfstream Park, he finished behind Major Dude in both the Kitten’s Joy and the Dania Beach Stakes on turf, but when he switched to Tapeta for the John Battaglia Memorial… wow. The result was spectacular. Congruent exploded from behind a hot pace to trounce his pursuers by 3 1/2 lengths.
Scoobie Quando likewise performed strongly in the John Battaglia. He raced several lengths closer to the hot pace than Congruent, then ran into traffic around the final turn and got shuffled back behind rivals. Scoobie Quando found racing room much too late to challenge for victory, but he did re-rally impressively to finish second. With an encumbered journey, who knows? Perhaps he could have defeated Congruent.
#4 Funtastic Again (6-1) and #11 Wadsworth (8-1) are other proven Tapeta performers worth respecting. Funtastic Again hasn’t been headed in two starts racing one mile at Turfway Park, wiring a $50,000 allowance optional claimer by 5 1/2 lengths before trouncing the Leonatus Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths. Wadsworth is also 2-for-2 racing one mile at Turfway. After wiring a maiden special weight by 10 lengths, Wadsworth rallied from the middle of a large field to beat Scoobie Quando by 2 1/2 lengths in a $50,000 allowance optional claimer.
So how do we take all these opinions and turn them into a viable betting strategy for the Jeff Ruby? By betting the trifecta. We’ll use Congruent, Scoobie Quando, and Wadsworth on top of our tickets, then add Funtastic Again and Major Dude underneath. If we cash, the payoff should be well worth our investment.
Wagering Strategy on a $18 Budget
$0.50 trifecta: 2,8,11 with 1,2,4,8,11 with 1,2,4,8,11 ($18)
What to say at the betting window: Turfway Park, 12th race, $0.50 trifecta 2,8,11 with 1,2,4,8,11 with 1,2,4,8,11
Wagering Strategy on a $36 Budget
$1 trifecta: 2,8,11 with 1,2,4,8,11 with 1,2,4,8,11 ($36)
What to say at the betting window: Turfway Park, 12th race, $1 trifecta 2,8,11 with 1,2,4,8,11 with 1,2,4,8,11
Good luck, and enjoy the race!